When You Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry: 11 of the Best Sitcom Finales Ever
There's nothing more bittersweet than the farewell episode of our favorite TV program, and comedies in particular have a knack of making that bitterness extra sweet.
The latest to go to the Great Big TV Graveyard in the Sky is Episodes, which bows out with a final fifth season starting on Showtime this Sunday (August 20). It's got a tall order on its hands: thanks to some of the shows listed below, sitcom fans expect a finale episode to wrap up loose ends, resolve all plotlines, pay sentimental homage to all the characters, and still make us laugh.
Here's some of the ones that did it best.
1. M*A*S*H (1983)
The Korean War series famously lasted eight years longer than the war itself, so when it went out, it went out with a bang. At 135 minutes, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" set the bar for sitcom finales, dealing with the genuine psychological horrors of war with grace, wit, and emotion.
2. Seinfeld (1998)
This comedy sign-off has become so synonymous with Disappointing Finales, Jerry Seinfeld himself referenced it during a mini Seinfeld reunion in Curb Your Enthusiasm, telling co-creator Larry David "we already screwed up one finale." Nope, Jerry and Elaine didn't suddenly get married. No, Kramer did not get his revenge on Newman. And no, George never fixed his second shirt button. Instead, they all ended up in jail for being "horrible people."
3. The U.K. Office (2003)
The final scene in the original U.K. version of The Office not only saw David Brent (Ricky Gervais) get the girl and tell lecherous sales rep Finchy (Ralph Ineson) what for, but also saw Dawn (Lucy Davis) and Tim (Martin Freeman) finally get together after two seasons of "will they, won't they?" — thus rendering an entire nation unable to hear "Only You" by Yazoo without bursting into tears.
4. The Office (2013)
The Dunder-Mifflin crew had their work cut out to match their U.K. counterparts' finale, but they most definitely came through in the end. There were in-jokes and awkward silences galore as the gang reunited a year after the documentary aired for Dwight and Angela's wedding. Even Steve Carell's prodigal Michael Scott returned as surprise best man. *Sniff*
5. Girls (2017)
No-one who saw the first episode of Lena Dunham's unflinching depiction of four young women living in New York could have guessed it would end with an episode about the difficulties of breastfeeding, but "Latching" (as the show's final outing was called) didn't disappoint. In it, the impossible happens: Hannah is forced to grow up.
6. Spaced (2001)
"The Staunton Lick" by Lemon Jelly memorably plays over a final montage in this last episode of Spaced, the flatshare sitcom from the team behind Shaun of the Dead. The characters get on wordlessly with their lives, leading up to Daisy (Jessica Hynes) and Tim (Simon Pegg) happily watching TV with their dog as the door closes on the camera. Will they? Won't they? Who knows. (Though a DVD extra eventually gave Daisy and Tim — and all of us — a happy ending.)
7. The Larry Sanders Show (1998)
Garry Shandling's innovative and hugely influential HBO show was not known for its sentimentality, but even it indulged in a bit of emotion in its final episode. First, Jim Carrey spoke for all of us when he broke down mid-interview, before giving Larry a send-off Jennifer Holliday would be proud of. And then, as taping of the final show comes to a close, tough-as-nails producer Artie (the great Rip Torn) slipped away to have a good cry. Aww.
8. Friends (2004)
Closure? You want closure? This finale gave you closure. By the time the last scene rolled around, all six friends had been catered for: Ross and Rachel were finally in it for good, Monica and Chandler had twins, Phoebe was happily married to Mike, and Joey... well, Joey had a new chick and a duck. Let's hope even Ugly Naked Guy got what he wanted.
9. Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
Every season of historical sitcom Blackadder ended in a bloodbath: in the first, it's at the hands of Percy the Poisoner (Tim McInnerny); the second, a murderous master of disguise called Prince Ludwig (House's Hugh Laurie); while in the third it is only the absurd Prince George (also Hugh Laurie) who dies. The final scene of the last season set during WWI took the biscuit, however. As Blackadder and his men prepare to head into No Man's Land, you can hear the studio audience laugh uncertainly, unsure if they should be finding it funny or not. That's no slight on the jokes, which are as sharply precise as ever. But by the final minute, the laughs are gone.
10. Sex and the City (2004)
The final episode of SATC divided fans. On the one hand, it satisfied those who were Big fans from the start, as the conflicted businessman (Chris Noth) finally said the three words Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) had been waiting to hear since season one: "I love you." On the other, it betrayed what others felt the series had always been about, which is that women don't necessarily find happiness from marriage. Hmm. Cue the montage.
11. 30 Rock (2013)
The last episode of Tina Fey's masterpiece was also the last episode of TGS, the SNL-like show her character Liz Lemon works on as head writer. Unlike other sitcom finales, 30 Rock was determined to stay weird until the bitter end, with Jack's brief meltdown to a jump forward to the future, where Liz Lemon's great granddaughter is pitching an idea for a new show about her ancestor's TV career to an ageless Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). It fell to Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and her rendition of the "Rural Juror" theme over the final credits to jerk some tears, however. All together now: "these were the best days of my... flerm."
What's your all-time favorite sitcom sign-off?